Saturday, May 9, 2020

Eminent Outlaws tells the history of 20th-century major gay writers

Can a history of 20th-century gay male authors (with a bit into the 21st) be both expansive and succinct? With Eminent Outlaws, author and essayist Christopher Bram has done that. He retells, in succinct form, the major authors' early successes, later failures, and how their lives often intertwined as colleagues and 'frenemies.'

Beginning with pioneering writers Gore Vidal and Truman Capote (and their mutual rivalries), Bram curates a fascinating tour of the pre-Stonewall daring of these and other authors. Throughout the book, he offers no discretion by quoting scathingly anti-gay critics of each era.

Tennessee Williams, a friend to both Vidal and Capote, is given generous exploration, from his early theater successes to his later troubled life after his partner Frank Merlo's death. Later in the book, playwrights Edward Albee, Mart Crowley, Larry Kramer and Tony Kushner's groundbreaking yet different works are recounted, from their historic plays' inspirations and premieres to the (again) vituperative attacks amid praise by (mostly -thankfully- forgotten) critics.

James Baldwin is quoted for his social commentary and, like Vidal and Capote, exemplifies the shift toward authors becoming 'telegenic.' (Imagine this writer, fascinated by a few of these authors on '70s talk shows via some innate gaydar, and later, while still a theater and dance student, privately scribbling bad poems and short stories influenced first by probable bisexual Jack Kerouac, and later by openly gay authors).

Bram also traces Baldwin's numerous treks from America to France, and his struggles with being boxed into gay and 'Black' categories. Expatriate, British/California author Christopher Isherwood's life from Berlin to Santa Monica shows the breadth of his work, and how stage and film adaptations of his stories changed his life.

Edmund White's career is given plenty of depth, from his homocentric/erotic works to more dreamlike tomes, and even his nonfiction works on sexuality and American rural gays.

Poets get a healthy nod, including, of course, Alan Ginsberg's infamous "Howl" publication and the ensuing legal battle. Frank O'Hara and the less remembered James Merrill get coverage.

Armistead Maupin is given ample exploration, from his early Chronicle serial to the multiple Tales of the City books, and his further success with The Night Listener.

Some mentions are more brief, like the short-lived Violet Quill and its authors (Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran and Edmund White being the only surviving members), and the later AIDS-era satirist David B. Feinberg. Bram also modestly excludes his own prolific output of acclaimed novels.

Later authors Michael Cunningham, David Leavitt, Stephen McCauley and others are included toward the end, rounding out this impressive survey of how literature was shaped beyond the gay genre and into larger readership. Additionally, Bram weaves in the rise and fall of independent gay bookstores, big publishers' '80s and '90s support of gay authors, and how each aided gay fiction's growth in spite of later omission by mainstream media.

Bram weaves a deft combination of history, biography, and even critical treatments of each writers' best and lesser known works. Stonewall, the rise of the AIDS epidemic, politics from the '50s to the millennium, are smartly contextualized as reflections of each writer's output.

Having read many of the works cited, including the expansive biographies of several authors, reading it became a bit of a thrill ride ("I knew that! Oh, I didn't know that!'). I hope that Eminent Outlaws is included in every LGBT Literature class. Each chapter shares a fascinating overview that should hopefully inspire further reading into the collective literary past.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Pandemic posts and recycled book reviews

I've decided to start reposting my GoodReads/Amazon book reviews on my blog, because who needs more essays about enduring the pandemic? Not to say that such writings aren't helpful. I'm just focusing my efforts elsewhere.

Like some, I'm thankfully still employed.

Among my duties are sharing updates on the many online events and fundraisers hosted my Bay Area nightlife, arts and community groups. My latest Homing's In events list includes music, dance, film, opera and fun drag shows. Some are global, like operas and film screenings. Many are set to specific dates, while others are ongoing.

I also write a fun article about the recent GLAAD and Sondheim celebration online events, two of the most popular with a definite queer interest.  Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" from 'Company' while sipping booze in bathrobes was a popular highlight.

Locally, the San Francisco Queer Nightlife Fund has raised nearly $160,000 to help hundreds of bartenders, staff, DJs and performers in this crisis. My article about that effort is Here.

And speaking of saving jobs, the Bay Area Reporter's fundraiser has been extended through May. 

Nearly 300 donors have been very generous. If you can't donate, just share the link to spread the word and help save the longest-running LGBT newspaper.

Now, on to the recycled yet still relevant book reviews.

First, my review of Pat Murphy's now-prescient The City, Not Long After.

Rereading this sweet post-plague story in San Francisco, where the book is set, rings strange and ironic. Would that a colony of artists could defend the city from invaders (the contemporary version would be the deranged rightwing protests to 'open the city' i.e. force other workers to put themselves at risk to accommodate them).

While that comparison be not be spot-on, others are. The various characters make art out of a sort of spontaneous inspiration (contemporary version: the numerous murals painted on boarded-up storefronts and the dozens of local online fundraisers for artists and arts nonprofits).

The story is part magical, part practical. Ghosts haunt the empty homes and office buildings. How do the few various survivors get on, and get along? How do they counter an inane fascist horde? Butterflies, paint, solar-powered robots and peaceful community-built empathy work for the characters in this book. Murphy's realistic and combined metaphoric story has become, in a way, quite prescient.

For the most part (excluding the real-life dopes still gathering in public without face masks) that's true here and now in San Francisco... except for the robots, which would be a nice addition.